Monday, September 30, 2013

The Big Deal About Bi-visibility

When I was writing "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe" I did not know I was going to be writing a novel about bi-visibility. I thought I was writing a fun, engaging, slightly erotic, love story about characters who live out-of-the-norm-lifestyles. It wasn't until I was done and started trying to think up pitches to publishers, and book blurbs, that I realized that what I had written was an account of a fictional character's struggles with trying to be true to himself as a bisexual in a world where no-one wants to accept him for who he is - albeit in a fun, engaging, slightly erotic, love story, kinda way. What's interesting to me now, and really rather sad, is that though most of my book was written more than 15 years ago, not much has changed in terms of how difficult being bisexual can be.

"But," someone not familiar with the issues might say, "how can that be true? Their have been so many gains in the last 20 years in gay rights."

This is exactly the kind of comment that has so many bisexuals banging their collective heads against a wall. Yes, advances in gay rights do help make bisexuals' lives better - for example if they are in an out relationship with someone of the same sex - but there are many issues unique to bisexuality, and the fact that people don't recognize this is one of the biggest issues.

Bisexuality is too often seen as akin to gay, in fact, one of the worst problems for bisexuals is that when they come out of the closet after living a heterosexual lifestyle they are immediately branded as gay by almost everyone, even after pointing out over and over again, that, no, they are bi, not gay. It's as if non bi people have an internalized translator that immediately and repeatedly interprets the word bi to mean gay. There can even been a confused/hostile backlash when an out bisexual gets involved with someone of the opposite sex; for case in point check out: The harsh hurtful reality of being bisexual.

Further, not only gay people, but also straight people, insist that newly out bisexuals are being homophobic when they call themselves bi. These well-meaning people insist that their friend/lover/spouse/family member is refusing to fully accept their homosexuality and needs to stop trying to be at least a little "normal" by claiming to still be attracted to the opposite sex. Ironically, in their efforts to be politically correct and fight for gay acceptance by trying to get the bisexual to see he/she is really gay and should act proud of it, people are actually participating in bi-bashing, bi-erasure, and bi-invisibility.

I will be writing more about bisexual issues in the future blogs.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Naming Characters in Fiction

Often my characters names just come to me quickly as I'm writing down the first words in my story, other times I have struggled with them. Here are some of the things I have considered in naming. 
I have found when I'm reading a novel I get mixed up too easily if two similar characters have similar names. For example, best friends named Mike and Mark. So I avoid that in my own writing. 
I also decided that relatively insignificant characters shouldn't have significant names. In "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," I changed one character from Alison to Alice for this reason. 
Another thing I have done when naming characters is to have a little fun with it. I had a character named Carol, and when I changed Alison to Alice, I decided I should also have a Ted and Bob - as the theme to the movie Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, was somewhat relevant to my novel. In my second novel I also use all four of those names.
One of my main characters started out as Clara but I changed it to Bonnie because it was useful to the story-line. Bonnie is not her real name and there is significance in several scenes to both her name being Bonnie - a West Indian guitarist singing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean on a beach - and the secret behind her real name, which Bonnie is short for.
It can be tempting to have a little fun by giving a character an unusual name, but that can be distracting. I only use unusual names for unusual characters, such as Flash, a bisexual, punker artist who has an orange crew cut. I originally spelled Derek as Derrick just because it seemed more interesting, but then I decided there was no good reason for it to be spelled in a more unique manner and this might just needlessly divert the readers attention.  
I once changed a very minor character's name because I realized that Jamie is short for James and Jamie's brother was named James but called Jim.
Whatever you do, make sure you're being consistent. For a long time, while developing my second novel, I would interchangeably use, Rosalyn, Rosemary, and Rachel for the same character. In the same book I was also accidentally using both Wicked Wendy and Wicked Wanda for another character. The Find and Replace feature of word programs are great for fixing this kind of problem. 
I like it best when the character's name just pops into my head and fits well, as if his or her name was inevitable and somehow obvious. Another one of those moments when you feel like the words you are writing somehow already existed and were just waiting for you to come along and transcribe them.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Details in Fiction

To do your job well of transporting your readers to another world, your writing has to give them the feeling that they have entered an actual three dimensional space. Details can make all the difference. Take for example this bit of description from a New York City scene in my soon-to-be-published novel "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe:"
 "Some fifteen minutes later, taxis honking impatiently, a siren wailing from a nearby street, we stood outside the cafe with our hands stubbornly in our pockets, a Milky Way wrapper swirling in the dust and wind at our feet."
I could have just said that they stood on the sidewalk, but  instead their body language bring a picture - complete with emotions - to mind. I could have just said that the street was full of city sounds, but the details about the sounds bring the scene more to life, giving the reader the impression that this really happened. I could have mentioned "a bit of trash," but the fact that my character noticed what the trash was tells you he was trying not to focus on what was really happening between him and the other guy (it's an emotional scene), and that there was enough time for him to have noticed.
In an earlier scene, my character is getting a ride in a Volkswagen bug and I have my character tell the reader, "I ran my thumb along the textured squares of the vinyl seat." Have you ever been in an older model Volkswagen bug? Didn't reading that line just bring it all back to you what those seats felt like, looked like? Doesn't this bit of movement also show some sense of nervousness and contemplation on the character's part?
In one of the opening scenes my character tells the reader "I looked out the window, past my faded cowboy and Indian curtains, and watched the soft December snow falling." In my first draft I just had him looking out the window and seeing the snow. I added the curtains to give detail. First I thought, there are probably curtains on the window, so let me show that. Then I asked myself what kind of curtains. He's 12 years old here so I emphasis with the curtains his move from childhood towards adolescence, which is relevant to the scene. 
With all the examples, the details aren't just thrown in there to bring the scene alive, each one of them also serves some other purpose to the story.
So tell us what kind of soda your detective is drinking and weather the can is dented or not cold enough or if it tastes too sweet or has gone flat - but only if it adds to character development or gives us a clue to who done it. Maybe the fact that it's not cold means that someone put it in the fringe after the beautiful heiress was murdered, and that must mean that the pool boy was lying about where he was at the time of the murder because he was the only one who had a key to the cabana and..... but the detective doesn't put all that together until Chapter 12, though the savvy reader realizes.....

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Today is a Good Day to Write

Why today is a good day to write:
1) Because then tonight you can walk under the stars and feel like you accomplished something.
2) Because tomorrow you'll wish you had.
3) Because it's better than washing the car/mowing the lawn/sorting through your sock drawer.
4) Because I said so.
5) Because you're mother said so.
6) Because you know you want to.
7) Because procrastination (aka sloth) is one of the 7 deadly sins.
8) Because you promised yourself you would.
9) Because yesterday is already too late.
10) Why not?
11) If not now, when?
12) Because then you're characters will stop screaming at you - at least for a little bit.
13) Because you call yourself a writer.
14) Because you can't wait to see what happens next (admit it, you really aren't in control of your plot).
15) Because your English teacher in the 8th grade would be so proud.
16) Because that cheese cake you have planned for dessert will taste so much better if you do.
17) Because.....
oh sorry, I have to go write, write now!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lessons in Blogging

I wrote my first blog post, On Starting a Blog, 38 days ago. It basically says, I have no idea what I'm doing, but here goes. It was pathetic, and I'm tempted to remove it.  I'm going to leave it up though, because it's quaint and pretty typical of a lot of blogs. This will be my 35th post, and I have learned a few things. Though I am sure I have much more to learn, I'd like to share some of my new found knowledge - much of which has come from my reactions to looking at other people's blogs.
Here's my advice based on what I've figured out over the last weeks.
Do not write a post like my first one. Telling people you don't know what you're doing is going to make them look elsewhere really quickly. If you've made the same mistake I did, forgive yourself, and then figure out what you are doing, and do it with confidence.
Blog readers are looking for original thought, so avoid a lot of re-posting of what others have written, or solely posting videos, photos, etc from other places (that's works a lot better on Facebook - though I'm a strong proponent of original thought of Facebook too). In my blog I convey my way of looking at various aspects of the craft of writing and associated topics, giving my twists on the subject. If you really like grooming dogs there is probably already lots of info on the internet about that, and one might think there is nothing new to say, but if you can write about it in a fresh way, sharing your own examples; adding your own humor, or seriousness, or wackiness; posting some engaging photos to illustrate what you're saying; and maybe even explaining the trade a bit more clearly than others have, you will have an engaging blog for those interested in the subject and maybe a few other people as well.
If you are weird, intelligent, awesome, funny or deep, go ahead and say weird, intelligent, awesome, funny or deep stuff, and we'll get the picture in a much more interesting, entertaining way, than if you just were to go on and on about how weird, intelligent, awesome, funny or deep you are - and chances are you'll have readers coming back for more.
Happy blogging, and please share what you have learned.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Real Life Inspiring Writing

In an earlier bog post, Are Novels Largely Autobiographical?, I talk about how bits of experiences in my life are used in creating my fictional worlds, but when all is said and done, the novels are far from autobiographical. However, my poetry is much more autobiographical, and yet my poems too are not completely true to life. A writer often, as I do in my poetry, uses real life as an inspiration but does stick strictly to the facts. 
A writer's first commitment is to create good writing, or more to the point, good reading. To this end, in my poetry, I will often take an emotion or a life situation and magnify its effects to fully capture its essence. It's like cooking down a sauce to enhance the flavor. In so doing, I not only over dramatize the theme but I leave out details that would water down or take away from the full impact.
Readers are left with something that they can possibly relate to in their lives, something they once felt or experienced, and here it is in a pure form, spoken with uncluttered intensity. Though they too most likely did not have as raw of a real life event as the poem conveys, it's speaks to what they went through.
All this being said, here is my most recent poem:

I think that when I hug him, what he feels is what it will be like when I’m gone and he can no longer experience the comfort of being in my arms.
When I kiss him, and he wants it so badly, he pulls away because he knows (has convinced himself) that someday he will not have my kisses, and it will be all the more agonizing if he lets me have his now.
My smile is taken to be a threat that I will someday only offer him only sneers.
My kindest gesture is interpreted as a promise that there will be a time when I no longer give him anything but pain.
Every time he does not slip his hand into mine, he is extending the kindness of making its absence less difficult when he is eventually gone.
When he does not say “I love you,” he is giving me a gift of a less-it-could-have-been someday broken heart.
Each time he refuses to share his past with me, he is assuring me that when I become someone from his past, my secrets will be safe.
The walls he erects are meant to support us both when the time comes for us to stand alone.
For my own protection he has told me it will never get any better.
That fact that I am still here, means little, for he could see the end before it even began.
Yet the fact that we are both still here, is because he has failed miserably in all his efforts to protect our hearts.
- Harrie Farrow August 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

Food and Fiction

We all have to eat, generally about three times a day. Even fictional characters have to eat. Even zombies have to eat. My point is, unless you've created a fantasy world where eating is excluded from the picture, food is going to come into your novel, so you might as well make it work for you.
Give this some thought. Answers to the questions of what your characters eat, where they eat, and with whom they eat, are are all great for developing characters, relationships between characters, and can provide settings, and possibly even plot and conflict. Does that blind date take place at a cheap Chinese buffet and result in food poisoning? Does the rich sister insist the poor sister meet her at an upscale steakhouse, then run out leaving the tab unpaid after a call from her husband's mistress?
Maybe the roll food plays in your book is simple and subtle. In the classic movie Repo Man, the main character opens the cupboard and takes out a can marked only "Food," opens it, and eats with a spoon.
Maybe food is a basic backdrop to your story as in the Japanese comedy, Tampopo, that has at it's center a noodle restaurant.
In my novel, "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe" food and eating play many rolls, for example the characters often meet in coffee shops, lemon cake is the only sweet thing one character ever eats, and another character has college classmates teach her recipes from the various countries of their origins, and then there's the strawberries dipped in sugar at midnight scene.
Food is less relevant is my second novel but I had lots of fun with a scene involving two women eating doughnuts at a truck stop and another scene with a woman enjoying a mango while sitting in shallow waves on a Caribbean beach.  
Food offers so many opportunities in fiction, it would be a shame to not take advantage of this readily available tool. Food fight? T.V dinners? The mood at a fast-food joint during off hours? Hot dogs burning on a grill while the parents fight over who takes out the trash? Pink cotton candy stuck in her hair while she cries on a Ferris wheel? A snow cone on a hot day in his favorite flavor changes everything for John Doe? I'm sure you'll come up with something tasty.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Finding Space to Write

Finding space to write is not usually about physical space, it's about mental space. Clearing a space in one's mind where the clutter of all else does not get in the way. One can find time to write and still not have space to write. You can get away from your family/friends/responsibilities and amusements physically, but they call all still be there mentally.
The trick is to find other things to give up in order to have plenty of quality time with family and friends, thereby freeing up mental space that's taken up by guilt over this issue, and then put writing not after responsibilities and amusements, but on the top of the list of responsibilities and amusements.
Finding things to give up may include: not adopting  another new puppy (but he's soo cute! yeah, yeah I know), rethinking if you really need to iron t-shirts, and saying no to helping with the fundraiser for your cousin's step-son's boy scout camping trip. Perhaps polish your silver tea set only once a month instead of once a week? You know it's true; there are things you could give up. So what if the neighbors make fun of you if your car has some dust on it, or you loose track of what your high school friends are talking about on Facebook? Certainly, watching reruns of the Big Bang theory could be replaced by reading a story to your six year old.
Okay, so you feel good about the time you're spending with family and close friends. Now you have to face the fact that writing is a major responsibility of yours, not something that takes you away from your responsibilities (silly idea!). And yes, go on, admit it to yourself, even though writing is a responsibility it is not a chore; it's an amusement. You like writing (otherwise just give it up already!), it amuses you, and revitalizes you, and makes you feel alive and accomplished. Really, is bingo at church this much fun? Does watching DVDs give you this much pleasure? Angry birds? You've got to be kidding me - or yourself.
One more thing, if you're just getting started with writing seriously, it's probably a good thing you're reading stuff - like this blog - about writing, but at some point your're going to have to ween yourself off of what can easily morph into a handy little procrastinating technique of considering reading about writing almost as good as actually writing. If you're a writer, it isn't, unless as I said, your just starting out, then yes there's a lot to be learned from others. If you're one of those who should have weened yourself some time ago - you know who your are! - then close down all internet sites, and pull up your word program, and let the fun begin!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Inspires Your Characters?

In order to move your plot along, you have to have your character decide to do something. You've created conflict, so there are problems, to build suspense there are more problems. Something has to change, something has to bring the story to it's climax.
While it may be tempting to make events beyond you're character's control bring about the resounding crescendo of your novel, readers are much more enamored by a story if the struggling protagonist actually does something that makes all the difference.This is where your character needs inspiration. Generally, this is in the form of a catalyst - something new introduced to the story that awakens the lead.  It may be hitting rock bottom as a result of an especially catastrophic event. Just like what inspires alcoholics to go to AA, the situation gets so bad for your character that they are forced to recognize that something has to be done.
Your character may be woken up by something another character does or says at just the right moment - a slap on the face during a wedding by a grandmother who has always been only kind, a statement by a co-worker that makes the character realize that her impression of who she is, is far from how others see her. It may be that a new person or relationship in their life makes your character realize things can't go on they way they have been.
Perhaps it's something subtle like a glace in the mirror at a friends house or the way a fish struggles on the end of the hook during a camping trip.
Inspiration can come in the form of a long repressed memory coming to surface, or a lovely dream, or the look on a dog's face.
Your plot, theme, setting and characters will all guide you towards the best choice for your book. Just make sure your readers feel it as intensely as you do.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Fiction Of Love

The Fiction of Love

Love is not fiction, but love makes good fiction. Readers want to be moved; they want to leave the mundane of their life when their life does not leave the mundane. Of course one of the most assured ways to get your readers there is by writing about love. Perhaps what inspires us the most in life is love, wallowing in it when you have it, looking for it when you want it, recovering from it when it's gone. Everyone can relate and almost every story, no mater the genera, at least taps into this theme. One need not write a romance to write about love.
Love is also especially useful for creating the necessary "page turning," "can't put it down," that keeps readers hungry for your books. Will he find love? Will she ever get that guy? Will he ever finally get a divorce and be with the one he truly loves? Will they ever stop fighting and enjoy their love? Will she ever tell her co-worker she loves her? Will love heal the pain of his past? etc.
One of the best vehicles for using love to create suspense is the friends/coworkers/neighbors who just can't quite seem to ever get it that they are in love. The reader figures it out early on but the characters, or one of the characters, is clueless. There is flirtation that is not recognized or acknowledged by those involved. There are excuses to get together that they believe are innocent. There is fluttery stomachs and nervous laughter that are written off as a reaction to the burrito at lunch and being over tired. When will those two ever see what we see? When will they finally figure it out? Will they both figure it out at the same time? Will they ever stop laughing at their friends when they try to clue them in? Oh, we can't wait for the moment when they finally fall into each others arms. But every time it seems there is a glimmer of recognition, they look away and start talking about their kids baseball game, or suddenly notice that it's pouring rain and run into their separate cars.
Love is also good as a backdrop to other story lines. Love causes characters to make that fatal mistake that messes up their best laid plans to become stockbrokers, or rob a convenience store, or finally do right by their long lost child. The loss of love drives characters to commit gruesome murders, or to become overly involved in their children's lives, or to debauchery, or world travel.
Yep, love is a writer's best friend... or wait, is it really just friendship, or the beginning of a torrid romance?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Books that Inspire

In the beginning, most of my writing was poetry. I started writing poetry when I was 13 and continued through to my late 20s when I started writing mostly short stories. Though I've almost exclusively focused on novel writing since my mid 30s, occasionally a poem will still find me. In fact it was a poem I wrote today that gave me the idea for this blog.
 "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle" - perhaps the best book of poetry ever compiled for teenagers - was a big inspiration for getting me excited about writing. My pediatrician had a copy in her waiting room, and for me it was instant love. I still have the copy I got back then - a full forty years ago - the cover, of course, quite tattered. I've even taken it off the shelf a couple of times recently to recite a poem to my boyfriend. While my son was growing up, I on many occasions read poems from it to him. When his second grade teacher started getting the kids interested in poems I lent it to her and she picked out a few that she felt would be perfect for kids even that age. Yes, while many books are entertainment or a peek into a new world giving new understanding, often a book can open up a new world, lead to new adventures, inspire greatness or creativity.
Just yesterday I joined Goodreads because I heard it is a great place for authors to get their work reviewed. Right away the site asks you to rate books you've already read. Based on what you say your reading interests are, lists are presented to you. I've always felt that I don't read as much as I'd like to, but book after book that I've enjoyed over the years came up and yes, with so many of them I was able to reflect instantly on how they helped inspire and grow my writing or other aspects of my life. It was a fun and unexpected trip down memory lane.
Of course as a writer, it would be the ultimate high to know that you've inspired someone.
I'd love to hear which books inspired you and in what ways.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Writers' Groups

Since novelists spend a lot of time in isolation tapping away on keyboards creating new worlds, having any sense of perspective about our work is a constant struggle. For me, one effort towards this end is to be part of a writer's group. There are all sorts of different groups, and I've tried a few.
I've been in groups where writers socialize and have speakers talk about writing. These groups are great for networking, encouragement, and gaining insights about issues of concern to writers. I went to one such group last night, VillageWritingSchool.
Other groups I've participated in consist of writer's socializing briefly, then reading their work aloud to the group who then claps. Often a couple dozen participants or so - from a pool of many more - show up each time, and the group meets once a month. Usually, because of the group size, reading is kept to under five minutes. There's a lot to be said for getting your work out there on this level. For writer's who are newly introducing their work to the public this can feel like a safe way to do it, and some writer's do not like to be influenced by feedback early on in the creative process. A group like this I've started going to lately is Howl Women's Open Mic. I also frequently go to Poet Luck at Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow.
My favorite groups though, are those that consist of 6 - 12 regular participants, meet on a regular basis two to four times a month. Writer's read their work aloud, and feedback is strongly encouraged. In these groups, feedback is in the form of encouragement/praise and constructive criticism (emphasis on constructive). When critiquing fellow participants' work fellow writers usually say what they liked best about what was read and then give suggestions on what could maybe be improved or clarified.
These groups give writers perspective on their work, provide people who are going to notice if they've been writing or not, keep writer's from being lazy about what they do write. Knowledge about grammar, publishing, plotting etc is also bantered about. Frequently, a word or phrase is thrown out each meeting as a suggested writing prompt for inspiration.
I've been fortunate enough to have belonged to two such groups. One was on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. We met in the back room of a restaurant (we had a view of boat docks), there was no charge for the room and the group was free. The man who started it was our first moderator, he would just keep us on topic and make sure everyone got to read. I became the second moderator (and was nicked named Margret Thatcher for keeping everyone focused on writing and not everything else under the sun). It was through this group that I got my first paid writing job. A local weekly paper, about all things boating, approached the group looking for a new reporter - I jumped on board without hesitating. The second group I belonged to was in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where I still live. We met at a writer's retreat Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow, which provided a free space for us and again the group was free. We also had a moderator, which changed a number of times. This group disbanded some time ago, but many of us are still in contact. Though the group consisted mainly of writer's who had not been published much, I'm very proud to be able to say that since the group's demise, one of the writers, Iris Jones Simantel, had the book she'd been working  on, Far From the East End, win a contest which led to getting it published in print, and becoming a top seller. Sweetly, she gave those of us in the group a nod of gratitude in her acknowledgments. She's now published a second book, GI-Bride, and another writer in our group, Woody Barlow, just e-published his novel, Tarzan-wore-Chaps.
The group was extremely encouraging in convincing me that there is an appreciative audience for my novel, "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," so now it's time for me to get my work out there!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

If You Can't Write What You Should, Write What You Can.

I was too scattered today to write a coherent blog. Too scattered today to gather clear sentences before they flew away. But born of this is a new writing philosophy for me - if you can't write what you should, write what you can. Prose would not come, so here is a new poem.

Little Bits of Me

Little bits of me lie scattered
and exhausted across the surface of his couch.
More bits can be found in the pieces of his tattered pillow,
freshly combed from my hair,
now littering his bathroom floor.
Bits of me teeter on the drain in his tub.
Others linger on the jagged edges
of an unfinished slice of watermelon.
A fan lazily sails more bits
around the hallowed space over his still warm bed.
There are the bits too
that reflect on a life fractured
in the smooth surface of his mirror.
It's lovely really,
the way he breaks me down into these bits,
but this time he forgot
to put me back together again.
Reaching out for wholeness this morning,
I found only the scattered bits that were him.
Was there something I forgot to do?
Ah, no worry,
we can straighten out the bits next time.
Some pieces just did not want to waken from the dream;
parts of us refused to be sorted back
into the everyday of functionality.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Creating a Platform for Novices

Four weeks ago I'd never heard the term "Creating a Platform." For those novices reading this, it's what you do to have an online presence to be able to promote your work.
With e-publishing this is essential because you are your own marketing firm. E-publishing sites do some marketing for you; some more than others, but they all expect you to market yourself. Unless you're just publishing something for your friends, family and or colleagues, you'll want to find a way to get the word out there that your book exists; not enough readers are just going to happen to see your book listed and decide to buy it.
Ideally, you should have started self promoting from the minute you first set your hands on a computer. Waiting until your book has already been published is not the best idea, but better then than later.
There is so much to learn about the process. If you're already big on social networking you've got a good base to work from. The really great thing about all of this is every site I mention in this blog is free; it'll just cost your a bunch of your time.
I started blogging the day I first decided to e-publish my novel, "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe." I actually had no idea what I was doing. I'd liked the info I'd gotten about Smashwords and thought at the time I'd publish with them. Reading over all the great info they had, I read that all e-published author's should have a blog. I clicked on the link and within a minute or so I had this blog.
Blogger makes the process of starting a blog incredibly easy. Soon after, I started a website on Wordpress. This was rather confusing because I'd read that I could start a website on Wordpress but it's actually a blog site. However, after some fiddling around in the site I found out that it's a blog site that lends itself well to website hosting. You create a static page to be your home page and go on from there.
I also opened a Pinterest account, a Twitter account, an Facebook Author's page (I'd already had an active Facebook personal presence for years), breathed life into my long neglected  Linkedin account, and recently started up Tumblr and Aboutme accounts. And +Author Harrie Farrow - just created a google+ Author's page.
All these accounts have to be monitored. All of them need fresh information and interaction with other users frequently.
There's lots to learn in each of these sites about getting your page set up just right. Linking the pages, which apparently is essential, is like rocket science (just do as your told in each site's help pages and you'll be alright - if you try to stop and make sense of it all... well, good luck with that).
I may be spreading myself too thin; I'll see how it goes and keep you posted.
E-publishing my first novel, working on my second novel, and self promoting, is my full time job right now, but frankly this business of setting up self promoting (creating my platform) is currently taking up all my time. Soon though I'll be able to get back to my fiction?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fist Impressions - Book Covers!

Fist Impressions - Book Covers!

Been struggling for weeks now to come up with a good cover for my novel "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe." If this had been anything but seriously daunting, my book would have been published already. I admit, I'm a slow learner. Not slow as in dull witted, but slow as in it takes me a while to process, assimilate and digest info that requires an important creative output on my end. I've been doing a whole lot of learning and digesting, and have found some interesting and useful bits of info and advice.
A book's cover is of utmost consequence - it's that all important first impression. This is especially true in today's internet world of massive, quick, and ever-evolving information. In a book store or library, once you've bothered to pull a book off the shelf, chances are you're going to look at the blurb on the back, or read the first paragraph, if the cover is anything less than repulsive. On the internet,  people make split second decisions to move on if their attention is not immediately sparked by the initial image they encounter.
One of the great things about e-publishing is that one can change one's cover easily and relatively quickly if a cover doesn't seem to be capturing an audience. In fact this convenience has demonstrated quite clearly how much difference a good cover can make. I read of a woman whose first book wasn't selling so well even though those who bought it gave it great reviews. She came up with a much better cover and her sales exploded.
With e-publishing size matters. Covers on e-books are only virtual and most often seen in the size of a thumb nail. An author's graphics have to be big enough to be clear in that size. Same with the title. Extra long tittles, like the working title I've had for my second - soon to be finished - novel "Bonita Verses Ivan Rastaman and the Monkey-Go-Round," end up needing smaller font sizes to fit, and thus become illegible. Which is why I've decided to go back to my original title, "The Man with the Camera."
Color is an issue too because many e-readers show the cover only in black and white. The first option I tried for "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe" had a black silhouette on a blue background; the effect was pretty cool in color but didn't work at all in black and white.
Some other useful advice on creating a cover, that I discovered, includes:
Don't depict some profound aspect about your story that isn't going to mean anything to someone who hasn't read it yet.
Figure out what feelings your book is meant to provoke and create a cover that will provoke the same feelings. You can do this by exploring what your book's themes are.
Sex sells, so if you have a lot of sex in your story use it on your cover. Duh; but someone did have to point this out to me. Well I said I was a little slow.
Don't bring your potential reader down. Another thing someone had to point out to me. I had chosen an image of  a sexy guy on a bed looking distressed. Yeah, my character is frustrated a lot, but I don't want those considering downloading my book to think it's a sad story when it's actually quite uplifting.
Anything else anyone reading this would like to add, I'd greatly appreciate it. I'm still working on that cover.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Universal Themes.

Universal Themes.

I could be wrong.
I've held the position, ever since I started working on my novel "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," that this story did not have a mass audience. After all, how many people out there want to hear about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a bisexual man? How many people want to hear a story that rises the question: "Can we love more than one and the same time?"
Fringe. That's what I've felt. It's a fringe story about fringe issues facing fringe people living fringe lives. The fact that I waited nearly 25 years since I started writing this story to get around to publishing it, could make it even more fringe. Who in 2013 wants to hear about a tale from the 1980s? Well, to this last question I have an answer - oddly enough as far as the themes in the story go there isn't much that would be different now.
This is where I begin to wonder if I might be wrong about who would be interested in my novel. Not much has changed in regards to the themes because the themes are universal. My novel is about about trying to find a way to function in a world that wasn't put together with you in mind, about struggling to be true to one's self, about choices, about desire, and ultimately about unstoppable love.
These are all themes that nearly everyone can relate to, themes important to the human condition. The exact details of how these themes are portrayed in the story really aren't important to the reader; what is important to the reader is that the story is told in a way that rings true to them, and touches them, and helps them better understand themselves, others, and the lives we lead.
This is what storytelling is all about. This is why we have storytelling, why people love a great book or a great movie.
So maybe I'm wrong - maybe my novel has a mass audience? For the answer to these and other burning questions, stay tuned.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

You've Got to Live a Little to be a Good Writer

You've Got to Live a Little to be a Good Writer
In my blog post, Every Experience is Potential Fodder for a Future Novel, I talk about how bad experiences have the redeeming quality of being useful in writing fiction. Now I'm going to emphasis how important good experiences are for writing.
Sure it's hard to find time to run around and have fun if you're busy writing, but the inspiration and experiences you gain will actually make your writing easier, faster, and better.
Chances are, if you don't live it up, you'll face extra challenges in being a good writer. Sure, if you've never been to the ocean you can find a way to write a beach scene, but you won't be able to add the fine details that describes the feeling of being there in a unique way that sets your work apart.
So many writing classes seem to be about accessing ideas and bringing your creativity alive, but all you really need is to have an interesting life of your own. Then ideas will come at you so fast you'll just have to worry about learning to have fun with editing.
So go out and climb a mountain, or dance in a mud puddle, or take Vietnamese cooking lessons, or fall in love, or talk to strangers, or join a kayaking club. Then tell me how it went; I can't wait to read all about it.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fun with Editing

Fun with Editing

I hear people say it all the time, they hate editing. I, however, don't share this dread.
In first drafts, we write what inspiration thrusts upon us as quickly as possible, getting it all down as it flows into our heads from where ever ideas come from. Everyone agrees that trying to edit in this stage stagnates creativity. So we tear through our keyboards, throwing the words on the page in a frenzy. This apparently, for most people, is where the fun stops. But for me that's where new fun begins.
When we're writing that quickly, what our leading man says to the bad guy at that cliff hanging moment has comes to us in a flash of genius, and before we have a chance to think Oh, that's good! we're already on to what Mr. Badnews says next to stymie our guy's hopes, and on it goes. There is no time to find perfect words, no time to weed out the irrelevant, no chance for using setting in dialogue, or picking up on the nuances of what the characters are thinking and feeling. All that fun stuff comes in the editing process.
The first draft may be where the meat of the story is laid out, but editing is the accouterments that make a story extra special yummy. Lot's of stuff needs to be filled in, fleshed out and fluffed  up. But editing isn't just cementing up the gaps in what's still a skeleton of a tale, it's also taking away. Usually lots of taking away. There is the deleting of redundant sentences or even whole paragraphs; there is the trimming of run-on sentences, and the fine tuning overly-wordy narrative. There is the reworking of awkward sounding phrases (for example "overly-worldly narrative" - which I was going to rewrite but thought I'd leave to make my point). All this is an art into itself.
Finding that perfect word that makes the idea come through like a bright light challenges our writing skills. Paring down dialogue, and adding details of body language, until the scene feels perfectly real and as intense or loving or angry as your characters actually feel is so much a part of what great writing is about. I love this process, because when I'm done I have this wonderful finished product; I've solved the puzzle of how to make it all come together.  Editing isn't just irritating busy work; it's a huge part of the craft of writing. And if you're like me, there's always lots and lots of editing that needs to be done before your first draft is the great story you envisioned as you wrote it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Using Humor in Dramatic Fiction

Using Humor in Dramatic Fiction.

I saw the movie Winter's Bone with my mother some time ago. We were quite impressed by the movie but it was super intense and my mother said, "There just wasn't any comic relief."
I had never thought about the role comic relief plays in dramatic stories before. However, I realized that I had been using it all along in my writing and that most dramatic fiction does too. Like a lot of things in life, we act out of instinct or perhaps in reaction to things we've picked up on subconsciously.
My novel "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe" is a dramatic tale of a man struggling to be himself in a world that doesn't want to have to accept who he is. After hearing me read many passages from my book, a fellow writer's group member said to me once, "I really enjoy your humor."
I especially appreciated the compliment as the humor in my book, despite being pervasive, is quite subtle. I was glad to see that I was successful in getting it across.
The humor is needed in my book; it's necessary to break up the tension, to prevent the reader from getting bogged down in the character's problems. As my novel is written in the first person, the humor is really that of my main character, Jim. Accordingly, the humor in his narrative also serves to gain the reader's empathy and allegiance. Everyone likes a good chuckle, and if Jim, despite all his problems, can get a little comic relief from the drama in his life, perhaps so can we when the going gets tough.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What's So Great About E-Publishing.

What's So Great About E-Publishing.

I first started writing the short-story that ended up becoming my novel "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," in 1989. No, that's not a type-o. Yep, 1989, and I started writing it as a novel in 1995. My final edit (there where tons of edits) was done around the turn of the century. Then around 2007 - after sitting in a drawer all those years - there was an "Oh, yeah, I guess there's going to be one more edit." And yep, my book has been sitting around now, again, - for about 3 years.
My point is this: I never published it in all those years. Why? Because when I was done writing it the first time around, there was no e-publishing, and well it's taken me this long - since e-publishing started up - to get the idea firmly in my head that e-publishing is an established, successful, legitimate, and respectable way to go.
But why didn't I try to go the usual old-tymey route of hard cover publishing? Because I knew my book had a limited audience; I knew it wouldn't be mainstream enough for traditional publishers. After all, those guys can only afford to publish books that are going to have - I think the number is something like - a godzillion, sales. This was a shame, because I knew there were people out there who would really appreciate my novel - just not a godzillion - and they'd never get to read it.
So what's so great about e-publishing? E-publishing works for books that will attract any size audience. That means there is now all kinds of groovy stuff out there that in pre-e-publishing times never would have seen the light of day. In fact, back in the old days, most people - not me of course - didn't even bother to write books that couldn't get published traditionally. But now they are! And now "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," gets to be out there for any and all who will appreciate it, to enjoy! Cool, huh? I think so.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Writing from the Opposite Sex's Point of View.

Writing from the Opposite Sex's Point of View.

My novel "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe" is written from the first person point of view of a man (Jim). What made me think I could pull this off despite the fact that I'm a woman? First of all, to my credit, I would like to note that I didn't think it was a good idea, and fought (valiantly, I might add) against the notion. But, alas, to make the novel work that is what had to be done. When you read it you'll see, getting inside Jim's motivations, emotions, and internal conflict is what makes the story.
But my reluctance was not because I didn't think I could pull it off. My reluctance was because I was concerned that others would find fault in the notion.
So, back to the question, what made me think I could know what a man would think, feel and want? There are a few things that contributed to my confidence in this task.
For one thing I am, personality-wise quite androgynous. I don't feel especially female, but nor do I feel especially male. Personality attributes that are mainly considered highly feminine or highly masculine are mostly puzzling to me. Thus, by making Jim not hyper masculine in personality, it was fairly easy for me to get a grasp on how he'd think.
Another thing about me - and I think this is the norm for all good writers - is that I have a strong sense of empathy. Being able to put yourself in another person's shoes (or bed, or bar scene, or classroom, or dinner conversation) enables one to imagine, or understand, what that person - based on what you know about them and I know a lot about Jim - would be sensing or experiencing, no matter who they are.
Indeed, there is so much that is universal to all humans when it comes to issues of love, desire, being true to oneself, loneliness, friendship, fear, hope and longing that no matter what sex you are, you can tap into those themes (all of which are in my novel) and the accompanying feelings, actions, and reactions.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Writing Sex Scenes

Writing Sex Scenes.

Lots of people say they dread writing sex scenes. I find it not so challenging myself, though reading sex scenes out-loud can be a bit unnerving - especially if I'm not too familiar with my audience. It helps though, that the feedback has been very positive.

Here's Harrie's Helpful Hints:

It depends a lot on what type of story you are writing, who your projected readers are, and what importance the scene is to the story. Adjust accordingly.
In my novels, love and sex are pretty paramount to the plot and theme so I tend to get a bit more in detail and don't worry so much about telling the reader too much. However, in some scenes the sex is way more important than others. Usually, when I show more detail it's because I want to show the love that developing between my characters, or I want to show how deviant, or drunk, or confused, or...whatever, my character is.
Gratuitous sex is ugly in any book that hasn't set out to be erotica or pornography, so make sure there is a point to your details.
Many sex scenes work really well with just some titillating foreplay, a glimpse of the more deep breathing stuff, and then the cigarette smoking, or rolling over and going to sleep, or entangled sleeping in one-another's arms, or the awkward avoiding of the wet-spot.. or whatever. However, if your book is one where sex is important, you don't want to cheat your readers out of some of the good stuff. I find it best though to leave readers wishing for just a little more.
Avoid a play-by-play sports' announcer recount. Better to show the total-abandon looks on their faces, and the anguished cries, than an in-depth explanation of the techniques being applied - unless you're writing a training manual.
Mostly though, I implore you not to describe a totally vanilla, missionary-scene quickie, with a lot of whispering of sweet nothings, between pressed sheets, and expect your readers to buy this as the most awesome sex your character's have ever had - I hate that.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Weed out the Irrelevant.

Weed out the Irrelevant.
I have those words on a physics classroom chalkboard in a scene in my novel, "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe." Those words on the chalkboard are not important to the scene, but they are relevant, and those words are relevant to most any situation.
They certainly are important and relevant when it comes to writing.
In a writer's group I use to belong to, one of the other writers was reading a scene from her novel. At the beginning of the scene she has her character take his wool cap and gloves out of the car. She makes a point of showing us this action so I kept looking for the relevance in the scene. Does he leave them at the party and this is why he goes back the next day and meets the person who is going to change his life? Does he turn out to be the only one who is prepared for the cold night and thus impresses his date? Does it turn out the cap and gloves belong to someone else thus revealing him to be a thief? Do we see this behavior so that we'll know he's the kind of guy who's always prepared? No. In fact, the hat and gloves are never mentioned again, and when I asked why she put that in there, she said she just wanted to keep the story true to life by including what a person would likely be doing at that moment.
We can't keep our fiction TOO true to life. There are so many details in life that are... well, irrelevant. And these details, like the cap and gloves - become distractions from your story. Likewise, if you included every hello and good-bye for every conversation in your book, it would drive your readers to boredom. But there may be times when the particulars of the encounter make including those necessary or important.  Sometimes the relevance of a detail is subtle but very useful - as in my chalkboard words.